Blog, Prints & Photography Lessons from Edinburgh and the Lothians

Posts tagged “amateur photography

Why I’ve no ambition to be a professional photographer

This is something I hear often; amateur photographers who would love nothing more than to take photographs for a living. Me, I’ve no ambition ever to earn my living from photography. Don’t get me wrong, I like to sell the odd print; I’ve got my own website for just that purpose. I’ve licensed a few images and while it’s always welcome, I’ve no intention of ever treading on the toes of the actual pro’s out there, of which there are many.

Let me explain further.

Firstly, photography is my hobby. I love it. I can be found out and about in Edinburgh most days, usually after work looking for something new or trying to improve a shot I’ve already done. It gets me out and about and I get a huge amount personal satisfaction from it.

So what’s the problem? Why wouldn’t you want to earn a living from something you love doing? Well, I’ve been there and done that already. Many years ago, when the internet was but a young upstart I got an interest in web design, it was so long ago I can remember upgrading to IE3. I loved it, every day I taught myself more and more, built websites on subjects I enjoyed and while I never had an ounce of formal training in it, with a graphic design background I thought I was quite good at it.

Well, I must have been as I went for a job as a graphic designer with a tour operator and ended up building their first e-commerce websites. Fast forward 12 years and I’m still building websites for a living, although I’m now a Web Development Manager rather than just a web designer. This hobby became a job and do you know what? I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a rusty fork than sit building a website after I finish work now.

I build, plan, test, manage, design, eat, breath and shit websites it all day, 5 or more days a week, it’s not fun anymore, it’s a job. Once you cross that line and you depend on it for a living, the initial fun and freedom get replaced with restrictions, deadlines and reams and reams of paperwork and regulations to deal with, in short, it’s not fun, it’s serious, it has to be, it’s how I exist and I don’t ever want photography to go that way.

There’s another reason too. When I first got serious about photography I specialised in motor sports, especially stage rallying. I started off with a bridge camera and finally progressed to a Nikon D70. I got quite good at it even though I do say so myself.

At the same time I had a website I had built dedicated to rallying which was doing rather nicely, it was at one point the 5th highest traffic motor sports website in the UK. This gave me a huge audience for my work and I sold a fair amount of photographs. I was published regularly in the motor sport press and had progressed to the point of gaining press access at events and even being the ONLY website accredited for the Rally GB one year.

However, this brought with it a sinister side of the industry.

Now, my images were typically different from what some of the seasoned pro’s used to do. They went out, usually to a slow corner and made sure they got a least one shot of every car, always the same stuff, high shutter speed and boring shots. I tried to be different and it must have worked, I maybe didn’t get usable images of every car on every event but I got 90% of them and they sold well.

Then it started. I found myself banned from some single venue events where the rights of the official photographer were being protected. Even just as a rally fan with no camera I was banned from entering some events. I also found press officers had been spoken to and some events pulled my legitimate press access. It even went as far as threats of physical violence.

While this never stopped me doing what I done, it made life difficult. Now, as a professional web developer I’ve never once, had a go at anyone who builds websites for fun, I’m more often supportive and ready to offer advice. So why did these professional photographers feel the need to remove me from their little clique? Maybe it’s just the motor sports industry but it left a very sour taste for me.

At one time I had fully planned to make the leap to a professional rally photographer but after this experience I slowly drifted away from the sport and so did a lot of talented amateurs like me who were trying to build up to the point of taking the chance of turning pro. Sad but true but the sport was the worse off for it as it ended up dominated by the same few names taking the same crap images event after event.

So, there you go. A bit rambling perhaps but that’s my reasons for never wanting to be anything more than a keen amateur. Photography for me is all about fun and I’d like it to stay that way.


RAW vs JPG, what’s right for you?

I follow a lot of photographers on Twitter and this is a debate that’s been rearing its head a lot of late, but is one really better than the other?

For the most part, it seems to be less experienced photographers that shoot in jpg with those who have a bit more experience making the switch to RAW. For my own part, I started off only in jpg, progressed to jpg and RAW and now 95% of the time shoot only in RAW.

So, what’s the big deal about shooting in RAW?

Quite simply, it’s all about the control you have over your image. Using RAW for your photography you can safely forget all about white balance, it’s easily adjustable in the RAW file. Blown out highlights? Not a problem, the recovery slider will get you out of that one most times. I’m not suggesting that RAW should make you lazy and you should digitally correct every imperfection, what it does is gives you a “get out of jail free card”. In other words, you take that shot of a lifetime but you forgot about the white balance, now in jpg this would be a nightmare to sort, in RAW, the shot is easily saved. It’s a great safety net, especially when you’re learning.

Of course making the switch to RAW will be slightly confusing at first until you get to grips with Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW or any other RAW importer but the benefits of control over your final image rather than settling for the manufacturer process algorithm are massive. Once you get used to dealing with RAW files you will start to realise the creative control you have over your images and it’s this I feel is the trigger to make sure you never switch back to jpg. Once you get that level of control you won’t want to lose it again.

Your other big plus point of course is that RAW is the scene as the camera see’s it. Unprocessed and every last bit of image detail intact. It’s a lossless format, unlike jpg which after it’s gets processed and compressed loses a lot of image data, even at the highest resolution. If it’s the most perfect file you want, RAW and 16bit TIFF are your way forward. High quality jpg is fine in most situations but it’s nice to know, if you ever need it, you have the full unaltered best quality image. In some cases where I’ve licensed images the printer has specifically asked for TIFF rather than RAW, an option if you have the RAW file, not so if only a jpg.

BUT… jpg has its place.

I learned this one the hard way a few years ago. I used to do a lot of rally photography with my D70 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8. Always shooting in jpg I would come home with hundreds of images that could be quickly downloaded, cropped and upped to the web. After a few years away from this I went to a rally again but this time shot over 500 frames in RAW. Process 500 RAW images? Not a hope. I know you can automate it but if you’re doing that, what’s the point? The next time I photographed a rally I used jpg which was the right choice for the situation.

I also switched to jpg when I was out and about the Royal Mile in Edinburgh photographing the Fringe acts performing. Again, it was a case of so many shots, processing the RAW was not going to be feasible so jpg again won the day. In both the cases though, the crucial element was that I didn’t need a much creative control over the scene as I did with a landscape or flower macro photograph, I was purely documenting what was happening at that particular time.

So, that’s my take on the debate. If you need the creative control, which I do most of the time, RAW is the perfect choice. If you documenting an event and it’s more important to rattle off shots on high speed drive rather than control ever last pixel then jpg makes a lot more sense.

I’m sure this is a debate that will run and run as long as cameras give us the option of which format to use, it’d be interested though to hear your thoughts on the subject!


Photographing the Forth Bridges – a quick location guide

Photographing the Forth Bridges is but like the old adage, of painting the Forth Bridge, i.e. it’s a never ending job. I’ve been photographing them regularly for the last 2 years and still find inspiration and new views every time I get down there.

With the size of the structures they are visible from many location but here I’ll deal with some of the closer spots to investigate both bridges, all with easy access especially if you have a car.

So lets start with the South Queensferry side first, if your coming from Edinburgh, simply head west and follow the signs for the Forth Road Bridge, once on the A90, take the turn off to South Queensferry and follow to road down into the town, you’ll see the bridges after approx 2 miles.

As you approach the bridges you’ll see the lifeboat station, to your right is a small single track road, head down here first and follow the road for about 100m. You’ll come to an open area with plenty parking and the rail bridge should be on your left. From there you can photograph it from the top of the bank or if your feeling fit and the tide is out, head to the left of the wall, there’s a gap here to let you down onto the beach. These are all shots taken from that location:

Forth Bridge Misty Sunset - Explored

Forth Bridge Spans

From here, head back the way to came and park more or less under the rail bridge, again some nice views from here on on the small beach in front of you. You can also walk down the pier.

Typical views from this location:

Forth Bridge Light Trail

Boat and Bridge

From here, head past the lifeboat station and you’ll get to the main promenade, loads of parking here but it gets very busy in the summer and at weekend. From here you can photograph either bridge or even both together with the right lens. With the tide out, down on the pebble beach here is a good location.

Forth Bridges Panorama

Forth Rail Bridge Long Exposure

Forth Road Bridge at night

Now, head into South Queensferry itself, you’ll come to a small parking area, from here you get a better wide angle view of the rail bridge.

Forth Bridge and fluffy clouds - Explored

Our final location of the south side of the bridges is just along the road. If you can, park up where the road comes to a junction, near the Orocco Pier pub. There’s also a small car park over the junction and to the right but it’s always very busy. Walk though and you’ll find a small harbour, you can either photograph from here or walk to the left and you’ll find the small car park where there are lot of locations to get either bridge.

Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored

Boats and Bridge

If your really lucky, there might be a cruise boat in and moored up near the rail bridge:

Westerdam at the Bridge
Ok, so now you have a mass of shots from the south side of the bridge, it’s time now to head to North Queensferry and get the bridges from the other side.

Head up the hill out of South Queensferry and turn right at the top of the road, go round the roundabout and onto the Road Bridge. Cross the bridge and take the first exit after you cross it and follow the signs to North Queensferry. Follow the small road down into the village. Keep following it and and eventually just past the junction for Deep Sea World you’ll see a small pub, head off to the left towards the rail bridge. You can park here near the entrance to the bridge works.

From here you can get either bridge:

Forth Road Bridge from the North

Forth Rail Bridge

Forth Road Bridge and South Queensferry

Once your done here, head back the way you came and at the junction turn left towards the pier. You’ll be able to park near the anchor statue. You can get the rail bridge here or walk down the pier (at low tide) and get the road bridge.

Anchor and Bridge

Forth Road Bridge Sunset

From here, head back out the village and on the way up the hill on your left after you pass under the road bridge is a turn off that takes you up the the Bridges Hotel. Drive in and park just as you get into the upper bit of the carpark. Just to the side of the door/conference area there is a path heading up to the right. Follow this and you’ll get to the bridges viewpoint. This is a perfect area to photograph the road bridge, especially at night.

Forth Road Bridge Light Trails

Forth Road Bridge

While you’re here, you can take the stairs to the left and go under the road bridge and back up on the other side, access is restricted on this side but you can get a view over North Queensferry to the rail bridge. It’s also possible to walk along the road bridge on the other side from this location.

Forth Rail Bridge from the Road Bridge

So there you go, a quick snapshot of EASY locations to photograph the bridges. Of course with a little scouting around there are hundreds more but there are all easy to get to with (usually) plenty parking. You could do the whole lot in a couple of hours if you felt the need!


In defence of HDR photography

Let me, from the start; make it clear that I’m a huge fan of HDR photography. I love it, I love the effect it has and I very much enjoy creating HDR images. What I’m less keen on is the way HDR is heavily frowned up by some more experienced photographers.

For those of you who don’t know, HDR photography is High Dynamic Range photography. Put simply, you will take at least 3 images, one properly exposed, one over exposed and one under exposed. Then using software such as the newer versions of Photoshop or Photomatix Pro you combine all 3 exposures to create an image that contains so much lighting information that you could ever achieve with a single shot.

Not quite an accurate technical description but enough to give people who don’t know HDR a fair idea of what it is.

From the first time I ever seen an HDR image I loved the technique. It can make, in some cases, a very average photograph something special. It can rescue a shot taken in dull light and give it life and vibrance. And it’s this, which some people object to.

Me however, I cannot see anything wrong with taking an average photograph and making it a stunning photograph via a fairly simple digital technique. There are times when HDR just works and others that you should use a more traditional technique.

I’ve spent the last 5 months learning all about proper filters having invested in a p-series filter system and it’s been a huge but enjoyable learning curve. It’s also been, at times, frustrating as I tried to get to grips with this new technique. This is how the HDR doubters will take their shots and while I can see some advantages is it right to restrict yourself to only using the filter techniques when you have the creative advantages of HDR at your disposal as well?

Let me give you an example. This was a shot taken in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. It was taken with a circular polarising filter and a ND0.6 soft graduated filter, and to me this shot was near perfect.

Princes Street Gardens

However, the day before I was at the same location and in more difficult lighting conditions I took another shot, which I eventually turned into an HDR.

Princes Street Gardens - Explored

Now, I much prefer the first shot of the 2. BUT, I was recently approached by a greetings card company looking to licence some of my images, I gave them both of these for approval and which one did they want? The HDR one.

Let’s take another example. The famous Calton Hill in Edinburgh shot at sunset, firstly, taken with a circular polarising filter and a 0.9ND soft grad.

Calton Hill Sunset 11 October 2010 - Explored

And now for an HDR version of the same shot:

Calton Hill Sunset 31 August 2010 - Explored

Guess which one the greetings card company wanted from these 2? Yes, the HDR one.

Now, I’m not saying that EVERY shot you take you should take with HDR in mind but why can it not be part of your photographic armoury just the same as taking a stack of filters out with you? What’s SO wrong about enhancing an average image with HDR, don’t we enhance every image we take in photo editing software somehow?

If HDR isn’t your thing, then fine, that’s your right but please, don’t dismiss the technique as a lower art form.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite HDR images of Edinburgh and I’d love to see what everybody else thinks about HDR in the comments?

Dean Village in summer - Explored
Dean Village, Edinburgh, Spring 2010

Forth Bridge Spans
Forth Bridge, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

Cramond sunset
Boats moored at the mouth of the River Almond, Cramond, Edinburgh

Calton Canon Sunset - Explored
Calton Hill Cannon at sunset, Edinburgh

Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored
Forth Road Bridge, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

Union Canal boathouse - Explored
Ashley Boathouse, Union Canal, Harrison Park, Edinburgh


Favourite Edinburgh Photographs of 2010

Inspired by a blog post I read tonight by Scott Liddell I thought I’d trawl through the archives and pick my favourite Edinburgh photographs of the year month by month.

January
Spylaw Park

This was a strange shot to take. I was taken at the back door of the building of my then employer who 2 weeks earlier had gone bust. I was still working at the time for the Administrators and to be frank the days were long and lonely knocking about in a big building that once had over 100 people working in it and at this point had a dozen at most. A multiple shot pano and hdr conversion of Spylaw Park in the Colinton area of Edinburgh.

February
Entrance to the Pentlands

I didn’t do a lot of photography in February. Job uncertainness mixed with a really crap working day didn’t inspire me much, this was a standout though taken on a lunch break just up at the entrance to the Pentland Hills at Bonaly. I had gone up for a misty landscape but in the end the sun hit this scene so in went f2.8 on the Sigma 70-200mm and the shot of the month was had.

March
10 to 3

March was a really lean month. I seemed to spend most of it playing with the Hipstamatic app on the iPhone. Life picked up though, got made redundant but had a new job already. Bonus! This was taken on the Radical Road on Arthurs Seat and was done by twisting the zoom on the Sigma 70-200mm as I took the shot. Weird effect and I’ve never tried it again since.

April
Union Canal boathouse - Explored

I started taking lots of photos again in April, the mixture of better weather and finally job security had me out and about again. This is one of my favourite subjects, Ashley Boathouse on the banks of the Union Canal. Great spot to walk the dog and its only a mile or so from the house. Taken lots of pics of this this year.

May
Dean Village in summer - Explored

A hard month to pick this one as I had loads in May. However, this shot of the Dean Village in central Edinburgh has served me well this year. I thought I had overdone the colour in the HDR but it’s been rather popular and it’s going to be on greetings cards next year after I had a request to licence it.

June
Bridges Sunset 4 June 2010

I don’t seem to have done a lot in June for some reason but this is the standout shot. Once of many attempts at sunset at this location this one probably the best. This shot is special as it’s going to be the cover of a magazine in January, of which I’ll blog more about at the time…

July
Looking down Princes Street sepia

I liked this one for July, Edinburgh city centre at full flow. Taken from near the foot of Calton Hill, which if you have read this blog you’ll know if one of my favourite places in Edinburgh.

August
Reflected Fringe - Explored

August in Edinburgh is all about the Festival. Now, I had to admit I was never a festivally person before I got the photography bug but now I firmly am. I was never away from the Royal Mile in August and got some great shots of the acts. I liked this one though, a living statue held this ball and I think everyone took pics of the reflection; I got this one printed in the Metro newspaper though.

September
Princes Street Gardens

September was a funny month, I turned 40, developed an inner ear condition called Labyrinthitis which is still causing me issues and I started to play about with proper filters and move away from HDR shots. This is one of the better examples of my early playing about. I had done it as an HDR the day earlier but hated it and went back next day with the sun in a better place and nailed it. Or at least I think I did!

October
Victoria Terrace

October I took a series of shots for Maxies Wine Bar and Bistro and done their website. This was one I went to get especially at night which came out near perfect.

November
Unfinished Shadows

I had to pick this for November, it was the shot I went to get that day. I had seen something similar in snow but the sun was so strong this Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed and headed down to Calton just in time to give it a go.

December
Sundown at Cammo

December has been a good month for photographs in Edinburgh, mainly thanks to the snow. But rather than pick an obvious classic Edinburgh in the snow shot I’m going for this one taken on the Cammo Estate on the western edge of the city. I liked this as I shot into the sun and tamed the flares!

So there you go, my favourites of the year, hope you enjoyed them too!


Never be afraid to take the same photograph again…

As a photographer I’m constantly seeking out new views and subject matters. However, with Edinburgh being my main focus over time it can be difficult to find something new. What this led me to discover is that doing the same shot over and over again isn’t a bad thing. Familiarity with the subject and trying something a little different can often produce a vastly improved or very different shot.

This is the scene I’ll use to demonstrate, the classic Edinburgh Calton Hill shot, taken from the side of the Observatory building with the Dugald Stewart Monument on the left and Edinburgh Castle and the Balmoral Clock behind. THE iconic Edinburgh view.

This is a fairly typical shot, sunny day, nice blue sky. Just the Nikon D90 fitted with the Nikon 18-70mm lens, CPL and ND Soft Grads used.

Classic Edinburgh under blue sky

However, try the scene again at sunset…

This first example is the same shot done at sunset in February (the sun only sets in this scene from later October to March). This one has had quite a lot of PP work done and is a 3 shot HDR image.

Classic Edinburgh - Explored & FP

Another sunset, this time at the end of August, the sun is setting out the frame but the HDR processing has brought out the sunset colours in the sky.

Calton Hill Sunset 31 August 2010 - Explored

Finally another sunset, this time in October and not given any HDR treatment, this is down to the use of ND soft grads.

Calton Hill Sunset 11 October 2010 - Explored

So, 3 shots, all from exactly the same spot but a very different result from each.

How about at night?

Classic Edinburgh at Night

Weather can also play a big part. As soon as the snow hit Edinburgh in 2010 it was time to try the shot yet again, but with added snow!

Again, same scene but a very different shot yet again.

Calton in the Snow

So we’ve seen how the processing of the shot, times and weather can all produce different results, how about using a different lens?

Obviously for this particular scene using a big zoom would be pointless as you’d lose the foreground interest of the monument but this shot was taken with a Lensbaby 3G, a selective focus lens at around 55mm, too much to get the whole monument in but we can still get enough of it so you know it’s the same shot.

From Calton with a Lensbaby

Or how about even a very different camera, this was taken with a cheap Holga on 120 format B&W film.

Calton Hill Holga

So there you go, same scene, 8 times but 8 very different shots and I wont hesitate to take this one again if I think I can get something different again.

I’ll leave you with one other example, this was a shot I took just after Christmas 2009 on the Cammo Estate in Edinburgh with a fair bit of snow on the ground, initially I loved the shot, the HDR just worked perfectly but the fencepost on the right fouled the tree behind it and it bugged me every since I spotted it.

The way in... - Explored
However, with the snow on the ground again before Christmas 2010 I got a chance to redo the shot, which now I’m very happy with.

The Way In - revisited

Never be afraid to revisit places you’ve been and take the same shot, at the end of the day if you get enjoyment out of it take the same shot every day. There’s always something different even if the same scene if you look for it!


Photographing traffic light trails – a quick guide

Done correctly, traffic light trails can produce striking almost abstract images. However, getting the perfect shot isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.

So, what’s the technique behind it?

Well, the good news is to capture light trails all you need is a camera that will allow you to control the exposure time and a tripod, no expensive filters required, no fancy lens’s although a very wide lens will give a more dramatic result, as we’ll see further down the page.

Obviously, you won’t be capturing light trails in daylight, no lights on the traffic equals no light trails, no matter how much you filter out the light so we’ll be working at dusk, dawn or for best results at night.

Also, think carefully about your location. An obvious place to start is a motorway footbridge. The advantages here are, dark road, lots of traffic and on a bridge you can get central to it safely.

The actual technique is the same in all the shots below. Set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and try to get your shutter speed into the 20s sort of bracket, any more and you risk flooding the scene with too much light, 20s on fast moving traffic will be more than enough. Be careful to not to over or underexpose the surrounding area. Under exposed and you’ll get a dark image with the light trails, over exposed and it’ll likely take on a brownish hue and look false. Get the scene correct and let the light trails take care of themselves!

This shot was taken on a bridge on top of a 2 lane dual carriageway, the trick here is to time the shot when the most traffic is in the scene, try to make sure there are cars on both side of the road to get a balanced shot.

Light Trails and Light Pollution

Another option is to get right down to the roadside and take the shot from the pavement. Don’t be tempted to do this with a motorway for obvious reasons. A squashed photographer doesn’t take many good shots! This is best attempted in an urban area where there is something of significant background interest.

This shot was taken at the top of the Mound in Edinburgh, the technique is mainly the same as above. Expose the scene correctly and then wait for the traffic before you open the shutter. Don’t just give it one go, once your setup, take loads, you’ll get all different results. Emergency vehicles with flashing lights give unusual results too.

Once you’re in an urban setting buses are your friend. As the bus is lit inside as well as having headlights you get a stronger trail from a bus. Double deckers are even better as it gives you some nice high trails in the shot.

Light Trails on the Mound

Be careful though, this is a failed attempt at side of road light trails, the reason it failed? Too much ambient street lighting. The junction was simply too well lit and the trails just don’t stand out enough.

Failed light trails

This is an example of putting the roadside and central technique together. Here I’ve placed the tripod directly in the centre of Edinburgh’s famous Princes Street. Luckily, this location has a small thin traffic island running the length of the road providing a safe area to take the shot.

This example was taken with a very wide lens at 10mm. There’s a lot of ambient light here but it’s out to the sides of the shot and doesn’t affect the trails. As there’s a LOT of bus traffic it’s a near perfect location. This is a 20s exposure at f22. The scene is correctly exposed, there’s sufficient background interest and because the traffic goes along in a straight line we get very definite straight light trails. By far the best method but choose your location carefully and above all, be safe.

Princes Street light trails

Princes Street Light Trails - Explored

You can also just about do this sort of shot at dusk or dawn. This was meant to be a sunrise shot with the big wheel and Scott Monument, in the event it was dull and overcast. There was too much light to get a 20s exposure but even the shorter exposure has added to a not very dramatic scene adding a much needed burst of colour.

The wheel at dawn

So there you have it. It’s not that hard and it’s 90% about choosing your location wisely. Do experiment when you find a good location, different densities of traffic provide very different shots. Don’t be afraid to rattle off hundreds of shots if need be. Every one will be different and you never know what might be the best when you download the results.

Feel free to leave a comment below or show us your best light trail examples!


6 Top Locations to Photograph an Edinburgh Sunset

I wish I could have made this a top sunset and sunrise blog post but not being an early morning person, sunset locations will have to do!

Of course, there are millions of places to photograph the sunset from, but not all of them will have anything to interesting in the shot. I’ve tried to avoid city centre locations s there are literally millions of places, what I’ll concentrate on there are the more full on landscape sunsets.

Some of these are pretty seasonal depending on the position of the sun and I’ll attempt to tell you when best to go and take your sunset pictures from there, as always, Suncalc is an invaluable resource in planning your location and timings.

1. Calton Hill

Calton Hill Sunset 11 October 2010 - Explored

Classic Edinburgh - Explored & FP

Calton Hill is undoubtedly one of the best locations for a sunset but it’s seasonal. From roughly October to March the sun will come down in view of the front end of the hill, i.e. the bit that looks onto Edinburgh Castle. The rest of the year your Calton Hill sunsets will have either St James Centre or the roof of the Omni Centre in the foreground, not the most attractive buildings it has to be said. The first shot below was late October and the 2nd one was early February. If you want the sun behind the Castle, early to mid November is the time to aim for.

2. Salisbury Crags

Edinburgh Castle at Sunset HDR

This one is pretty much an all year round location but autumn and spring will see the sun down nearest the castle. Due to the height it’s a challenging place to photograph the sunset and I don’t feel I’ve got a shot I’m happy with from here yet. Don’t go up with a really wide angle lens though; otherwise you’ll get the undesirable flats of Dumbiedykes in the foreground of your shots.

3. Forth Bridges

Forth Bridge Sunset June 4 2010

Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored

South Queensferry is such a good location if I could only take one picture again it would be this one and the Bridges. Get down the little road to the right of the rail bridge and you can get both bridges in one shot, it’s a summer shot though as the sun comes down too far to the left once you get to late October.

The road bridge is easier to get in the sunset shot but again, it’s best in summer unless you go over to the North Queensferry side.

4. Cramond

Cramond sunset

Cramond Sunset 4

Cramond again is best in summer, later in the year the sun will come down over the land and not the water, far less spectacular. In the height of summer on a calm night, try getting the boats moored at the mouth of the Almond or get out onto the causeway at low tide and get the sun reflecting in the wet sand. You might even want to risk some wet feet and get the sun through the submarine defences, do take care to check the tide times though.

5. Newhaven Harbour

Newhaven Lighhouse at Sunset

Sunset is possible at Newhaven Harbour most of the year but later in the year the sun will set over Granton and you’ll lose the reflections on the water. Earlier in the year you’ll be able to get the lighthouse and long reflections of the sun in the Firth of Forth or from further back, even directly through the mouth of the harbour itself.

6. Blackford Hill

Sunset over Edinburgh from Blackford Hill

Edinburgh Sunset from Blackford Hill - Explored

Blackford Hill is a bit of a funny location for the sunset. Ideally you’d want the sunset with Edinburgh Castle as your main focus from here but the sun comes down nowhere near the Castle from Blackford, you’ll only get that orange glow bleeding that far over the sky on the most perfect sunset nights. Otherwise, you’ll need to get right to the top at the trig point to make the best of it. The sun will come down roughly behind Corstorphine Hill in summer moving round to behind Braid Hill in winter. Best foreground interest will be the houses of Morningside or Craiglockhart Hill.

So, that’s my 6 favourite locations, how about adding some more in the comments below?


10 top tips for Photography beginners

Let’s start with a little background information…

I would never describe myself as anything other than a keen amateur at photography despite having an interest for at least the last 10 years. I got my first DSLR when the Nikon D70 hit UK shores and for years took nothing other than motor sport shots, particularly rallying. Now, rally photography, no matter what anybody tells you isn’t rocket science. Shutter priority, pick your spot and off you go. Easy.

Over all those years I never explored further until I started to kindle an interest in “other” types of photography in early 2009. After struggling with the D70 I finally bit the bullet and bought a Nikon D90 in May 2009 and the learning curve began. What follows are some of the biggest lessons I learned which hopefully will prove helpful to other “learners” such as myself.

1. Whatever you do, get your pictures out there on the internet.

Why, you might think, would I want to do this? Simple, websites such as Flickr or Blipfoto allow you to interact with other photographers and from there you’ll get feedback on your images and be able to see how other people achieved their results. Flickr was the single biggest source of learning and inspiration for me and its well worth paying for the pro subscription but do make an effort to get involved, the more you contribute the more you’ll get back. I learned loads from people on Flickr and now enjoy passing on some of the knowledge.

2. Always buy the best you can afford.

It makes a difference. If you can afford to buy a decent DSLR and lenses then it will pay dividends for you. If all you can afford is a compact, then that’s fine but get the more feature packed one you can. By that I don’t mean all different pre-set modes or wireless printer links etc, make sure you can control the camera manually by setting the aperture etc, once you progress you’ll want more control and if you don’t have it you’ll stand still taking snapshots.

3. Diversify.

Don’t pick one subject matter or one style of photography when you’re starting out, try all sorts and from that, decide what works for you. I have a real passion for photographing my home town, Edinburgh but I also enjoy macro photography, low depth of field shots, etc etc. It keeps things interesting and if you enjoy landscapes its good to have something else to do if the weather isn’t the best for tramping around the countryside. You never know, you might just find a style that suits you and your equipment better.

4. Invest in lenses carefully

If you go the DSLR route then you’ll start to build a collection of lenses. Lenses no matter what manufacturer you go for are never cheap so be careful what you buy. Carefully consider what you want it for and what you need for the job. Most cameras will come with a kit lens, a fairly cheap lens usually in the 18-55mm range. This will serve you well for most situations. I’d say from that add a decent bigger zoom lens, my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM was expensive but the quality is fantastic and its been used without fault for years. It’s usually always true the more you spend the better you’ll get.

Don’t be too hung up on only buying Nikon or Canon branded lenses etc, Sigma and other 3rd party manufacturers all produce some great glass and usually cheaper prices and in some cases, they are even better than the camera manufacturer’s equivalent. I’ve got a mix of Sigma and Nikon lenses and never had any problems with the Sigma’s which are all of excellent build quality.

A kit lens and a decent zoom will serve you well and you can add specialist glass such as macro lenses, or super wide lenses as you grow and learn.

5. Invest in a decent tripod and remote switch

Don’t skimp on a tripod. You might not see it as a huge problem but having been through loads of cheap, and by cheap I mean sub £30 tripods I finally broke the bank and spent £120 of a Giottos tripod and head and never looked back. The ease of use and build quality are well worth paying for. It might seem a lot for something to sit a camera on but having wasted over £60 on cheap tripods believe me it’s not that bad. As I’ve progressed I find I use it all the time, even it good light as you’re taking no chances with camera shake and ruining a good shot.

A decent remote shutter release is also a godsend. Don’t be too hung up on the IR ones, they do work but your better of with one connected by a cable. £20 on EBay will buy you a programmable one and they go hand in hand with the tripod use.

6. Learn the importance of filters early on

Filters are the key to great images. You probably will already have a UV or skylight screw in filter on your lenses to protect the front element but take the time to learn what circular polarisers and natural density filters can do for you. Most people start with screw in versions as they are easy to use and mainly, you can get them fairly cheap. The downside of them is that if you have different lenses with different sized filter threads you need different filters to fit them all.

In this case, look at square filter systems such as the Cokin P range. To start with, unless you’re a lottery winner don’t bother too much with the top range stuff like the Lee filters unless you’re going to make a business from your photography. The 85mm Cokin P range is fine for most amateur use and a hell of a lot cheaper. You’ll need filter adapter rings to fit your lenses but after than everything else fits on all lenses, you only need one filter holder and one set of filters. I bought the following on eBay for under £100 and it serves me well in 99% of situations. The only limitation is with my Sigma 10-20mm lens but I can use the filters down to 12mm with no vignette from the holder.

77mm adapter ring
67mm adapter ring
Cokin P holder
Cokin P wide angle holder
Kood 85mm circular polariser
Set of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 Hitech ND filters
Set of 0.3, 0.6, 0.9 Hitec ND Soft Grads

7. Learn and understand about your cameras aperture priority mode.

I wont attempt to tell you about aperture settings in photography, there’s a million tutorials if you Google it. Read up on it, it’s the single most important thing you’ll learn.

8. Don’t be afraid to repeat a shot

So you’ve taken a trip out and came back with a handful of images. You’re maybe quite happy with what you got. BUT, don’t think that’s it, best I can do from there. Go back, try again, maybe do something different. You will be amazed at how you can improve a picture by become familiar with the scene. I’ve done the classic Edinburgh shot from Calton Hill dozens of times and improve it every time or get something different every time and never tire of it. Try the shot at sunrise, sunset, dusk, dark, cloudy days, blue sky etc etc, you will be amazed at how many differences you can get and how you will get better and better at it.

9. Plan a trip out before hand.

Check the internet, is where your going closed at a certain time? Check Suncalc, what’s the sun position when I get there? Look at the location on Google Maps; see where you can get access and what angles you might get. Think about what shots you might take and what equipment you might need. Plan where to park or even if you can park? Check the weather forecast. Doing costal shots? Check Tide Times. Planning can make a world of difference!

10. If your camera lets you, shoot in RAW

RAW is the key to great images, if you can set your camera to give you RAW output, use it and learn how to process it. I use it with Adobe Camera Raw with photoshop but there are stacks of programmes out there to read and process RAW files, once you try RAW you won’t ever go back to jpeg!

So that’s my tips for any beginners or upcoming amateurs. I’m not saying I’m perfect but this is what’s worked well for me, hopefully, it’ll work well for you too. Any other tips, feel free to leave them in the comments.


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